Between Communication and Community : EU Constitution Making, a European Public Sphere and the (Un-)Likelihood of Transnational Debate
Abstract: What kind of public sphere is possible in the European Union? Against the backdrop of debates on the transformation of democracy beyond the nation-state, this study explores daily newspapers’ role in providing forums for transnational debate in the presumed absence of an overarching European collective identity. It uses empirical means to reconsider the question of the supposed co-constitutiveness of the public sphere and political community. In Habermasian discourse theory, the deliberative public sphere is thought to bridge gaps in social integration, while communitarians claim that normative debate can only draw on pre-existing communal values. But if the public sphere has a social integrative function, how can we then conceptualize the minimum level of social integration that allows individuals to initiate a deliberative search for solutions – in our case in the European Union? This study contends that efforts to conceptualize this minimum level of social integration as an “identity light” fail to distinguish clearly between the identity of the community (even in a thin form) and recognition of affected parties on a given issue. Drawing on social constructivism, constitutional patriotism and Deweyan pragmatism, the study argues that affectedness ultimately determines recognition of legitimate participants in any political debate. Yet affectedness is constructed in framing processes. On this basis, the study explores whether transnational debate hinges on daily newspapers' perspectives and preferences on European integration and EU democracy. Daily newspapers are here presented not only as important framers of public debate, but also as bearers of normative views regarding the level at which democratic opinion formation on European issues should take place. Do newspapers with a pronounced preference for more democracy beyond the nation-state play a more active role in providing forums for transnational debate? The empirical analysis of debates on EU constitution making indicates that newspaper framing and transnational engagement follow cross-national patterns linked to newspaper orientations. This empirical finding suggests that despite the presumed absence of a thick sense of European community, lively transnational debate is possible even in newspapers favoring intergovernmental integration. On the other hand, the empirical also indicates that the inclusion of non-domestic speakers as authors presents a challenge for a European public sphere understood as a shared communicative space.
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